Monday, October 1, 2007

Jewish Hereticism, Take 1

This was inspired by a recent, very interesting, very reasonable sermon given by Tom Gardner.

There is a sort of intrinsic (if, so to speak, defeasible) beauty in persistence in the face of adversity. An otherwise ugly fruit that stays firmly to a tree after a hurricane is beautiful. If people ridicule a silly hat again and again, the hat (or the wearing of the hat) takes on a certain beautiful quality. The persistence of the Rwandan genocide in the face of mounting public condemnation was not beautiful, but only because a genocide is not the sort of thing that can be beautiful.

Jewish practice has weathered more than a little ridicule and persecution, both from without and within. I think what is not despicable in it grows more and more beautiful in the face of this ridicule and persecution. The greater the adversity, the greater the beauty of its persistence in the face of the adversity. But what greater adversity can a religious practice face than rejection of the belief that has always provided the basic rationale for the practice? And then: what greater beauty (of this certain sort) can a religious practice take on than that furnished by persistence in the absence of belief? Only if there is something more powerfully ugly or despicable in the religious practice without the religious belief would the practice be ugly even then. But what could be more powerfully ugly or despicable even about our seemingly most innocuous religious practices? Not a rhetorical question.

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